Oslo: Something To Remember


I’ve been struggling to find a meaningful way to discuss the Oslo/Utoya tragedy- and I’m at the point of simply admitting the sheer frustration I have with my abilities as a writer, as a therapist, as a commentator- and as a human being. Maybe you’re there, too.

I want to know things that may be impossible to know: What created Anders Behring Breivik? Or, at least, what caused him to turn an automatic rifle towards children- strangers, innocents- and begin firing? What can prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future?

It’s not easy, but to glean anything from the news reports and the writings of Breivik himself is to come up with large fistfuls of chaff and a few measly chunks of nutritive information. The temptation to run with them is strong. The temptation to demonize right-wing extremists and to create parallels in the U.S.- where none may exist- is almost aching in its pull. The desire to condemn this violence as something entirely opposite from my particular political and social point of view is hard to ignore. And yet, for all these strong temptations, I can’t get past one thing.

What terrifies me most is that it happened in Norway.

“The country maintains a Nordic welfare model  with universal health care, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. From 2001 to 2007,[13] and then again in 2009 and 2010, Norway had the highest human development index ranking in the world.”

This is not a country of people who are suffering from great numbers of the hungry, homeless, uneducated and uninsured. This is one of the most prosperous (human condition-wise) countries in the world. It has one of the strongest safety nets- if not the strongest- in the world for the protection of its citizens.

If such a tragedy could happen there- then what does that mean for the rest of the world?

I don’t know. And I’m not sure we’ll ever know.

I do know that all the laws in the world, all the tightening of regulations and of loopholes and sterner conviction and punishment policies won’t do one thing: they won’t mend the damage that has happened to people who now look at the stranger on the street with mistrust and fear.

What will?

Perhaps a reminder that this man became divorced from the human race in favor of an ideology. That he couldn’t see the suffering of fellow creatures as something relevant- because his beliefs and ideologies drowned them out- displacing compassion and even, I would argue, his humanity. It’s what we’ve seen before, it’s what we see now- subtle sometimes, but definitely present:

Ideology crowding out humanity.

We see it in political strategies and campaigns. It is visible in church policies, legal precedents, economics, social commentary- you name it, it’s probably there.

When ideology displaces humanity, our soul- our safety net- has departed.

I would suggest that the only way to get beyond this universal tragedy is to learn its lesson. And, it may be simpler than we think. To paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth, “People were not made for the law, but law is made for the good of the people.” All people. All human beings. Not just some. Not just one race, one gender, one sexuality, one religion, one political party, one country, etc.

The tragedy is in forgetting- forgetting that we’re all in this together. And arguably, every historical attempt to negate that simple statement has ended in tragedy. I will not bring in the dramatic historical examples you may be thinking of right now. That would be too easy. And this, for being such a simple concept, is obviously not so easy- or we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.

We only remember when horrifying tragedies like this make us stand up and take notice.

And that, I think, is the greatest tragedy of all.

4 comments on “Oslo: Something To Remember

  1. Tom Marsh says:

    Well said, Greg. Thanks.

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  2. I think you make a great point. In a way, you could say what it really comes down to is this – people don’t live on bread alone. Just because you take care of everyone’s needs, doesn’t mean they won’t act violently, even if it reduces the chances. We often use economics as a cover-all explanation, believing that people become radical because of desperation or alienation from the economic system, when in fact there is still a lot to be said for the power of ideas.

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  3. [...] culture and politics can really make heads or tails of the senseless violence in Norway, though D. Gregory Smith makes a worthwhile effort. I’m certainly not going to [...]

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  4. Pogue Mahone says:

    Very well-written and well-reasoned. I enjoyed reading it. But the only comment I would add is that part and parcel of rightwing beleif is that they and they alone have the absolute right to use violence as a means to an end. They alone are able to determine and justify as individuals when the need for violence is required. And that is becoming more obvious daily. The thugs are becoming more and more comfortable with intimidation tactics. It IS pure terrorism. That is why you don’t see any condemnation of the murders by the rightwing talking heads, only subtle justification as with Pat Pukecannon. Sure, ideology overwhelmed and incited this guy, according to them, but he was in, the final analysis, unable to do anything but act. The reality of the situation FORCED him to act. Reality compelled him to murder! They are sick bastards.

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